Optus Living Network: How to mitigate commoditisation of the telco network

Optus doesn’t want to be a utility telco that sits in the background of customers lives – only to be called on when the Wi-Fi stops or the bill arrives. With Living Network, Optus is hoping to leverage its connectivity advantage and play a more meaningful role in customers lives.

De-commoditise by driving customer engagement and changing attitudes towards telcos

Optus launched its Living Network in May 2021 in an effort to de-commoditise the telco network and play a more engaging and relevant role in customers lives by offering a range of “customer-centric” service features and initiatives in areas such as advanced connectivity, security, productivity, environmental sustainability and social causes.

The Living Network features are available to Optus customers from the MyOptus App and include Unlimited Data Days, Donate Your Data, Optus Pause, WiFi Secure, Game Path, Call Translate, Call Notes, Optus Pulse and SideKick – see descriptions below. Some of these service features were already introduced prior to the official launch of the Living Network (Donate your data, Unlimited data days, Game Path and Optus Pause). A YouTube explainer for many of these features can also be found here.

Other operators have also launched some of the features seen in the Living Network, in particular drawing on the environment, sustainability and social responsibility as a way to increase relevance and drive an emotional connection – see STL Partners May 2022 report How can telcos be loved?.    

Delivered through the My Optus app, the executive team refer to these app features as part of its efforts to provide a telco-in-an-app or network-in-an-app that has the potential to change the way customers connect, think about and engage with Optus.

While operators traditionally compete on core elements such as pricing, coverage and customer service, Optus’ Living Network service features are designed to tailor the Optus network more towards customer’s specific needs and requirements – enabling customers to use the Optus network to do things rather than just providing network coverage. Features such as WiFi Secure and Sidekick which were initially promoted as part of the Optus Living Network in June 2022 are either currently unavailable (Sidekick) or no longer packaged as a Living Network feature (WiFi) Secure. Optus has also categorised it’s Living Network features by Digital Wellbeing, Adaptive Network and Advanced Voice.

Figure 1: Optus Living Network overview

Optus Living Network

Souce: Optus

Ending the telco utility mindset of ‘set and forget’

Living Network is part of an overall industry trend where telco operators are attempting to build relevancy with customers by addressing their digital lifestyle needs. Optus has stated that it doesn’t want to be seen as a utility telco provider where customers “set and forget” their telco service (package/tariff) which then lives in the background of their lives and is forgotten about until they pay their bill or when there is a network outage or something doesn’t work.

  • It is hoped that by trying to play a bigger role in customers lives and offering a service that is more than just “dollars for gigs” they can enrich the overall customer experience – giving them a reason to choose and stay with Optus.     

Describing the service in December 2021, Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin remarked “we are providing our customers with a variety of meaningful reasons to think of us as a service which delivers simple tech solves for their daily problems”

In terms of impact, early reports in September 2021 indicated only approximately a half a million of its 10 million subscribers were using a Living Network feature since its May 2021 launch. However, the operator continues to reiterate in its reporting that the initiative is gaining traction with customers. In May 2022 it was reported Optus would run what would be its largest advertising campaign for the year (2022) to increase awareness of its Living Network.

Living Network features: Digital wellbeing, adaptive telco network and advanced voice services

Optus Living Network features are categorised by Digital Wellbeing, Adaptive Network and Advanced Voice

Digital wellbeing: Closing the digital divide and promoting sustainability

Donate your data: As a way to help close the close the digital divide people in need get a prepaid SIM with data plus unlimited calls and SMS every 42 days. Every month, Optus data donations are pooled and then distributed as an added data boost to those who need it. Optus postpaid customers can donate a portion of their monthly data via the MyOptus App. Prepay customers on select tariffs can also donate a portion of their data. The operator has partnered with a number of charities to deliver this service to people experiencing economic hardship from a job loss, family or other tragedy.

  • Optus claim over 28 million GB of data has been donated since December 2019. The donated data helps individuals (and since 2021) helps families in need to access vital education, employment, and other services.
  • At the launch of the Living Network (in May 2021) Optus CEO, Kelly Bayer stated that the program had so far assisted over “14,000 young Australians in need” and attributed the initiative to achieving an NPS that was “off the charts” highlighting that customers felt empowered by the Living Network to shrink the digital divide and make a difference to others lives.

Figure 2: Donate your data – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Source: Optus

Donate your device: is a device donation programme encouraging customers to donate their unused smartphones to those that need one so they can pursue online services such as education and job opportunities. Optus has partnered with the Good360 Australia charity which operate the program. Customers simply bring the smartphone to their Optus Store who clean and wipe data from the device. Customers are encouraged to remove their data and factory re-set the device themselves prior to handing it in. The donated device is paired with a Donate your data SIM connection. If the device is not fit for donation, it will be recycled.

Figure 3: Donate your device – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Source: Optus

Optus Pause – A free service for managing personal and family time online. Customers can control the home Wi-Fi connection and all mobile connections (on the same account) from the My Optus App. A compatible Optus broadband modem is required. The service only restricts internet use and does not block calls and SMS to mobile devices. Pause will not operate on a device which is roaming abroad. Customers continue to pay for the service connections when Pause is in use.

Figure 4: Pause connectivity – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Source: Optus

Optus Eco is an environmental and sustainability initiative within MyOptus app and consists of a number of eco (checklist) tasks customers can complete as a way of reducing their carbon impact. The check list includes:

  • Opting for paperless billing
  • Purchasing an eSIM rather than physical plastic SIM. Optus highlights that every 100 eSIMs connected saves 1kg of plastic waste going into landfill.
  • Re-purposing an old device by recycling, re-using/trading in or donating the device.

Optus telco carbon offset program

Postpaid and home internet customers can also support carbon off-setting projects by donating a monetary value each month based on the type of device(s) they own (offsetting the device’s manufacture) and their estimated usage of the device(s) in terms of charging activity (electricity) and data (GB) consumption.  Donations can start from AUD $0.60 per device per month and customers can choose from a selection of carbon off-set projects to direct their donation. Up to five handsets can be off set at one time. Customers can track their on-going carbon offset progress from the Eco section of the MyOptus App.

Once customers complete everything on their Optus Eco checklist, Optus offers to “Amplify” and pay a carbon off-set bonus on top. This bonus top-up is described as “coming soon”. The Optus (consumer) Carbon Offset program is separate to Optus’ own companywide carbon offsetting program. The consumer Living Network carbon off-set projects are chosen by a specialist partner developer working on environmental projects called GreenCollar.

Figure 5: Eco and sustainability projects – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Source: Optus

Adaptive telco network: Enhancing the customer experience

Unlimited Data Days  is a AUD $5 add-on giving customers unlimited data for 24 hours. Customers can buy as many add-ons as they wish but use one at a time (each 24 hours). Data can’t be shared with others on the account. Select prepaid customers can also purchase the add-on as long as their credit balance is at least AUD $30. Optus CEO Kelly Bayer gave a sobering example of a customer being able to use this feature to stream a friends funeral which they could not attend in person. Having this one-off / one day feature was a safety net. In a December 2021 briefing, Optus CEO Kelly Bayer cited customers had taken up more than a million Unlimited Data days.

Figure 6: Unlimited Data Days – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Source: Optus

Optus Pulse – provides customers with information and feedback on the status of their network connection and its performance – across both the Optus mobile network as well as home and public Wi-Fi networks. Optus Pulse consists of a dashboard and interactive map and is available from the MyOptus App. It provides real-time information on the customer’s connection status as well as the signal quality they are receiving (experiencing) on their device. Pulse tests for connection speed, jitter and packet loss and highlights network performance for services such as music, video and gaming. Customers can also see previous connection metric history. Interactive maps display the towers customers are receiving service from and the status of those towers. This allows customers to identify network issues (themselves) such as if the tower is undergoing maintenance or upgrade. According to Optus, being more proactive in giving customers this information saves them needing to call customer service. However, live chat is available to customers having connectivity issues on their mobile or home Wi-Fi. The service launched like many Living Network initiatives initially as a pilot in August 2022 with a full launch two months later in October.

Figure 7: Network Pulse – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Game Path – for NBN (fibre and cable) broadband customers interested in gaming. This service reduces lag by 30% (as well as jitter by an average 71%) when gaming by accessing multiple local and international points of presence (POPs) and using AI to select the optimal connection path however, manual server selection is also possible. The service which is activated via the MyOptus app is only available on windows PCs and costs AUD $10 per month with one-month waiver. Optus internet gamers may receive a three-month waiver. Optus provides a table highlighting the performance improvement customers can expect by game and city based on a sample size (gaming session snapshot) in time but highlight actual performance may still vary.

Figure 8: Game Path – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Advanced voice services that enhance customer productivity

Optus Call Notes captures voice calls (such as meetings/interviews/calls with tradesmen) by converting the in call to text in real time. The service can be activated during a call by asking the Optus voice assistant to “take notes” (i.e. “hey Optus, take notes”). The Optus assistant then asks the other party for permission to transcribe the call – once they confirm with a yes, the transcription commences. Conversations are stored in MyOptus App for retrieval. Once retrieved the note is deleted from Optus systems and is only available to the customer from his/her MyOptus App. Customers have 48 hours to retrieve a call note before it is deleted from Optus’ systems. Customers need to have VoLTE activated on their account in order to use the service but they don’t necessarily need a VoLTE device. The service does not transcribe voicemail and does not operate when roaming. Call Notes is currently available under beta trial to postpaid customers.

Figure 9: Call Notes – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Source: Optus

Optus Call Translate  translates voice calls in real-time between two people speaking two different languages to each other. Effectively and as promoted by Optus, the service is “turning two languages into one conversation”. The service is currently available in 19 languages and is built, owned and operated by Optus using Google Cloud (API) for the translation element. While the service was initially trailed in a beta mode with select customers, it is now available to postpay customers (including business) at a cost of AUD $5 per month with a seven-day trial period. The service is activated from the My Optus App along with translation settings such as the “to” and “from” language setting. When a customer calls a number using the translate feature, before the call conversation starts – both parties will hear an announcement saying that the Call Translate is in use. Optus customers can use the service to call overseas, and they can also use it abroad so long as they are roaming on a VoLTE network.

When using the service, Google’s Cloud Translation API and Media Translation API are utilised. The call conversation is sent (as text) to these APIs (temporarily) for the necessary translation, returning the result and debugging any service failures. Once complete all text is automatically deleted.

In highlighting the usefulness of the service, Optus points to the multi-lingual country and five million people (20% of Australians) of which English isn’t their first language. Such a service might be valuable when interacting with others to perform everyday functions such as booking a medical appointment.

Figure 10: Call Translate – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Source: Optus

Changes to Living Network features: Home security and personal security

Both Optus WiFi Secure and Sidekick were originally launched as Living Network features in May 2021. However, the security service is now promoted as part of Optus’ home internet (national broadband network or NBN) proposition.  According to the Optus website, the Sidekick service is currently not available (as of December 2022).

Optus WiFi Secure consists of McAfee network level security for home (NBN) broadband customers with a compatible modem. This is not anti-virus but prevents attacks from malicious websites, botnets and denial of service attacks by monitoring suspicious websites and protecting devices connected to home Wi-Fi network. McAfee’s® Global Threat Intelligence Cloud Network monitors all global online threats in real time. WiFi Secure costs AUD $5 per month but is bundled free on select family internet plans.

Figure 11: Call Translate – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Source: Optus

Optus Sidekick is a free personal safety alert service when alone (walking/hiking) however Optus does not promote it as a safety or emergency service and it doesn’t connect users to the police/emergency services. When customers are out (and perhaps) alone, they can set a timer via Sidekick from the MyOptus App. At the end of that time, if the customer has not deactivated the time setting, Sidekick sends three predefined contacts an SMS to request they contact the customer and check-in with them. Customers select three people from their contact list. The timer can be cancelled when the user feels safe/happy and secure at the end of their activity. Prior to the timer ending they also receive reminder to cancel. The timer can be set from 10 minutes to a maximum of 9 hours 50 minutes. Sidekick is available to postpay customers only (and on iOS devices only) and is activated from MyOptus App

Figure 12: Sidekick – Optus Living Network

Optus Living Network

Source: Optus

Author: Liam Mimnagh is a Senior Analyst at STL Partners, specialising in consumer research and wider telco industy trends.